As a young freelancer, I took almost whatever jobs I could. I was starting out, I needed the money, who could really blame me. I also didn't know what kind of writing I wanted to do, so I tried a lot of different things.
But as I learned what I liked doing and what I didn't, and how much I really needed to make per assignment for them to be worth my time, I took what is perhaps the most important step you can take in growing your business: I started saying no.
Budget to small? No. Write advertising copy? Not my cup of tea. Work again with an editor who pressured me to come back and do revisions when I said I was taking time off after my grandmother died? Absolutely not.
By cutting out jobs that didn't work for me for whatever reason – and sometimes the reason is "I have a bad feeling about this" – I've had time to pursue the kind of work I enjoy that also allows me to pay my mortgage and heath insurance premiums, contribute to my retirement accounts, and take two months of vacation every year to drive around visiting National Parks units (in non-pandemic times).
I know it's hard, even when someone comes to you out of the blue and tries to flatter their way into your calendar. But you must be choosy if your business is going to grow.
Don't feel bad. It's your time, your career, your life. You don't owe it to anyone.
So here are four tips on saying no:
- Don't apologize. You don't need to say "sorry" or "unfortunately" or anything else that makes it look like you're rocking back on your heels. If you reached out first and their budget or contract doesn't work for you, it's not your fault. And if someone reaches out to you with the wrong opportunity, you are saying no to a stranger. You don't owe them a debt of feelings. If the opportunity doesn't interest you, doesn't pay enough, the contract is bad, or you just don't want to do it for whatever reason, say no.
- Be brief. If there's a specific reason why you're passing (your schedule, their budget, etc.) you can say that, but you don't need to do more than just state a fact. If you don't want to do it because it's not something you're interested in, or you just get a bad feeling about the client, you don't have to go into a huge backstory about your answer either. You don't need to be rude, but don't waste a ton of time on a counter argument. The answer is no, simple as that.
- Leave the door open. If you want! Because while you might be too busy right now, that may change. Or if their budget doesn't match what you charge, that may change on their end too. They may move jobs, and if they seem pleasant enough, you want them to think of you there too. Do you know someone who this would be a good fit for? Ask if you can pass the opportunity along.
- Don't answer. Sometimes I get emailed offers so egregious that I don't even answer – the budget is nothing, the topic is offensive, they insult me in the opening email, or it's from someone I decided to no longer work with. As I learned on the "Emerging Form" podcast, a power no is to not answer at all. I use this rarely, but my silence is effective when I do so.
- "Thanks for reaching out, but I'm not taking on any additional clients right now. If that changes in the future, I'll be sure to reach out."
- "Thanks for thinking of me, but this isn't the kind of work that I do. I may know someone who's perfect for this opportunity though. Is it OK if I pass this onto them?"
- "Thanks for thinking of me, but I generally charge X for this kind of work. If your budget changes, please keep me in mind" [They may come back with a better offer; you'll have to decide then if you've changed your mind]
- "Thanks for thinking of me, but I'm going to pass."
"Saying Goodbye to an Endless Year with a 24-Hour Race" for The New York Times
"To Run and Take Notes at the Same Time" for The New York Times
"Hate Working Out? Blame Evolution" for The New York Times
"How COVID-19 is Changing Packaging" for Supply Chain Dive
"Prepping New Cloud Workloads for the New Year" for CIO Dive
"The Evolving Role of the Chief Procurement Officer" for Supply Chain Dive
What I'm Reading
- Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater. Sometimes I find kids books in a Little Free Library and I give them a read, especially if it's a classic I missed. This is silly though very rooted in its time.
- On the Way to the Wedding by Julia Quinn. The final Bridgerton book! I wonder if the show will keep chugging along for eight season to match eight books.
- So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y'all Don't Even Know by Retta. I love listening to comedians read their own memoirs. This was a delight.
- The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg. I went into this with a heavy dose of skepticism. Could this really work? It can! I'll read the next one in the series.
- If You Ask Me by Betty White. I was really nervous the day before I ran a 24-hour race, so I figured Betty White would sooth me. She did!
- Here We Go Again: My Life in Television by Betty White. She was so soothing I listened to two of her books back to back! (they're pretty short)
- Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop by Nick Offerman. I listened to this during the 24-hour. I don't remember much of it (though I've enjoyed his other audiobooks!)
- Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan. A big chunk of this book is set in Capri. I really want to go back to Capri.
- I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom. This has the best explainer of what OCD really is (it's not washing your hands a few times or wanting stuff to be color coordinated in your closet). It's worth reading for that alone (I listened to this one).
- Courting Catherine by Nora Roberts. I found this in a Little Free Library down the shore. I went by it a few times before I finally picked it up. I'm glad I did! It was published in 1991 and shows it, but it mostly held up. I'm fairly confident that I've read this series before, but who cares.
- Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork by Reeves Wiedeman. I liked this very much. I wish there had been more about the ensuing fallout, which isn't really a criticism because of the timing on when the book was published. That ensuing fallout wasn't in the book because it hadn't existed yet in time for it to be in the book.
- A Man for Amanda by Nora Roberts. I enjoyed my dip back into an older Nora Roberts series so much that I went on eBay and bought the entire series. THIS book doesn't hold up as well though. The hero is persistent in pursuing the heroine in a way that is clearly too aggressive. Things have changed, for the better.
- City Slickers. I forgot a lot about this movie, and I'm glad I watched it again. I've also been to Ghost Ranch, where a lot of it was filmed. I recommend it, once it's safe to be a tourist again.
- The Flight Attendant. What fun! I got HBO Max for Christmas and I am using the heck out of it.
- The Show Goes Wrong. This is a very silly British show where the same group of actors put on a short play every week, and, as the title suggests, everything goes wrong. Great screwball comedy.
- Defending Your Life. This is just about a perfect movie. Perfect.
- Ballers. Speaking of HBO Max, I can now finish watching shows I used to watch when hanging out at my dad's house. Will this show hold up? I don't know. They covered a lot of ground in areas men don't often to talk about, especially with mental health and addiction, but it's still a lot of boobs and butts. I'm not mad I watched the last season.
- Bonding. This is a weird little Netflix show that I assumed only had one season. Well, the second season just dropped. I recommend it – just don't watch it when kids are around.
Until next time,
Jen A. Miller